New breast cancer research diminishes connection between racial identity and genetic risk of disease

By Dennis Archambault

Research conducted by the University of Pennsylvania has concluded that there is no racial difference in genetic risk of breast cancer between Black and white women. Instead, there may be environmental and behavioral differences that increase the risk for Black women. The research counters earlier studies that drew the conclusion that Black women were more susceptible by virtue of genetic make-up.

“We shouldn’t be factoring race and ethnicity into our decision about who to do genetic testing on,” Susan Domchek, M.D., one of the study’s researchers, told National Public Radio. “What’s really important to note is that there are huge disparities in medical care between Black women and non-Hispanic white women.” Specifically, that pertains to recommendations for genetic testing. Black women are not recommended by their doctors to get tested at the same rate white women are.

The research identifies other factors, including some unanswered questions as to why Black women get earlier-onset breast cancer than other groups. There may be reproductive and environmental stressors, added Katherine L. Nathanson, M.D., co-author of the study.

The findings of the Penn study remind us that there are far fewer genetic differences between races, but that environmental factors and behavior play a greater role in health.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Supporters are encouraged to wear something pink during Pink Week 2021, Oct. 5-7, and view some of the online programming. For more information on breast cancer, visit

Dennis Archambault is Vice President of Public Affairs for Authority Health.